• johnny b

tam coc: everything is ok

Updated: Jun 9, 2019

only a week and a half left in vietnam, and i had about three weeks of desired travel to go in terms of making my way up north...what to do?! i can extend my trip to 8 weeks total? i can speed through any and every city that i stumble upon as i mush on? or i can bypass, and fly? ok...time to fly high in the sky! I opted to miss out on the cities of hoi an and da nang, vietnam in order to make efficient use of my time. don't fret you two...i'll be back sooner than you may know, to experience the beauty you have to offer!


what i thought was a smart move, i flew into the city of hanoi as there were three sites within a few hours drive each and could then use hanoi as my home base. first stop was to be tam coc, second was sa pa, and last but not least would be halong bay. sa pa was an area dominated by rice terraces and villages that have been there for hundreds of years. halong bay, a UNESCO world heritage site which was blooming with limestone karsts creating beautiful tourist boat cruise adventures.



after flying into hanoi for the night i scheduled myself on the first bus leaving for tam coc the next morning. i googled for hotels/hostels in tam coc for the next few days and finally booked my first homestay! it was a 2 hour bus ride turned into 6, with a stop half way for the potty, AND an hour tourist visit at the ancient capital city of vietnam, hoa lu. definitely ain't mad about this detour!


meeting new tourists. meeting new locals. temples and fortress ruins dating back to the 10th century. i really could get lost here. words and pictures really don't do it justice. the more i travel, the more i run into places that i call "kindle worthy." this ancient capital city as well as tam coc at large was one of these stops. i could pop a squat, grab a freshly made mango juice, open my kindle, and just let the hands on the clock spin.


making our way into the final stop at the village of tam coc, i hopped out in search of my homestay. walked north a few blocks, walked south a few blocks. wait...really? who am i kidding, i have no idea which cardinal direction i was ever headed in on this trip. speaking with different restaurant workers, bike shop owners, and hostel goers, i had no idea where this homestay was at! but, what was i to do? i already paid for the homestay and been craving a homestay experience for about 4 weeks now. i continued to search.


honestly, i can't quite remember what, or probably more who, led me to my bed for the night,

but a local good samaritan took me down a few "side streets" or better described as alleys, and voila! my homestay!


sounds sketchy at all? small village, in the middle of nowhere vietnam, broken english, and alleys... ah, honestly, if your vision was what i truly saw, you'd be ready to throw the first pillow in this homestay pillow fight which was about to go down. approaching the homestay, meeting with the family and discussing the rules and regulations with the daughter of the household, who spoke english the most fluently, i quickly felt like the newest member of the clan. being led to my room in the "hotel" attached to their house, i launched back first onto the bed and felt immediate relaxation.


if you are unfamiliar with homestays like i was a few weeks before organizing this trip, a homestay is an opportunity you can take in order to stay with a local family for roughly the same price of a hostel. they all vary of course, but the idea is to feel as at home as possible in the specific culture's lifestyle. making meals together, walking around town together, watching the world cup together, breaking sound waves and air waves together. for an additional few bucks a day, the mother of the household made breakfast whenever you wished as well as put a plate on the dinner table for you.



ping pong was played at night unless your vocal cords needed some exercise, then karaoke was also an option. the father of the house was the most skilled at table tennis, but the father of my household taught me enough to dethrone my new friend. one technique which i have now learned is within worldwide amateur pingpong regulation, releasing of the children! with lots of laughter, my opponent allowed his children to hug my legs and grab my shorts with no mercy. as i attempted to still gain the point with this new distraction, he was able to take advantage and take the lead. there have been plenty of ping pong games played in my parent's basement with kids running around as distraction. brought back some fond memories from all of the way across the world.


in order to travel through the limestone karsts of tam coc, i elected to rent a motor scooter. my homestay offered their neighbor's, but as it was not in the best looking shape i requested that i take a look around town first if that was ok. funny enough, i'm learning that sometimes the grass isn't always greener. i'm curious by nature, but sometimes my curiosity for what else is out there ends up being a waste of time. i spent the next two hours walking around this very small village, only finding bikes to rent which the speedometer wasn't working, or it did not have side mirrors, or xyz. so, i learned my lesson, go back to the other side of the fence and take the nice gesture from your homestay.


by scooter was a beautiful way to experience this corner of the world. the untouched nature,

the temples tucked at the base or on top of some of these large rocky hills. feeling liberated to the extreme.


on this part of my journey, i was beginning to really start to feel self love solidify at my core. for as long as i started to question my sexuality and ultimately hide my true self, i had been absent of just that. through the work with my therapist i began to realize what this emptiness i felt was, and now i was taking the steps needed to value myself, fully.


turning on the self love switch in some respects feels like night and day. approaching life, viewing myself, viewing others, how i perceive things to be, is so different with self love. but what isn't night and day in this process is the rewiring. visually, establishing self love at your core once it happens can be like flipping a switch, but... allowing oneself to approach life with self love in all of the millions of different interactions one goes through in life, takes time. you wake up and begin to approach the daily, weekly, monthly interactions (wires connected to your core) with your old core, the non self love core. BUT, now you have self love and are aware that the way you used to approach these interactions is not healthy. is not healthy for you, not healthy for your friends, not healthy for your family, not healthy for the guy sitting next to you on the bus, not healthy for anyone. so, in order for these daily/weekly/monthly interactions you possess to flow from self love, you have to reconnect them to your new core as you become reacquainted with each individual one.


some are easy, some are hard. some happen within minutes, seconds of establishing self love, some don't happen until you have the specific life interaction again which may not happen for another ten years. but, what's important to note is that you have the new mindset, you are capable. you have the self love you need to take anything on in life no matter how difficult or easy, no matter how joyful or sad, no matter how timely or short. you have it and no one will ever take that away from you.


to put this process in summary, from creating self love at your core and existing with it, i would say there are three steps:


1. don't create compassion, but find the self love, find the compassion from within.

2. "clean up" your current life. if needed, scream/talk sternly within certain relationships in your life to voice yourself and put words to how you feel so you can catch yourself up and share how you feel, share what is going on in your life.

3. continue to always do your best and place compassion/self love at the helm, and never look back.


if you are able, with the help of a therapist/friends/family, to establish self love. if you are able to say what you need to say to loved ones no matter what it is and who they are. if you are able to do the work to catch your life up emotionally to where it needs to be. then you will be able to do your best to lead your every move with compassion at your core. while there will still be struggles in life, your foundation will be solid and ultimately you will be able to handle anything that comes your way. i for one have work left to do, but the foundation has been set, and it's all building up from here.




back at the homestay for the second night, making the home cooked meals with the wife, her singing, her love, her joy, was never depleted. i don't know how she does it, whether or not she is truly aware of her gift, but by the way she lives her life, she is providing you with the secrets she possesses. she is demonstrating what a secure individual who has self love and leads with compassion in every action she takes, looks like.


i'm indebted to this family, and to the mom specifically. having lost my ma now about two years ago, it doesn't surprise me how much the relationship with this mother affected me.


we're all family at the end of the day, and i have been happy to spend time with some relatives on this side of the world. if you find yourself resetting your core one day with self love, know that you will gradually evolve from knowing that "everything is going to be ok" to "everything is ok."



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